Monday, June 13, 2016

Overcoming Intertia

I am slowly getting myself back into the habit of writing. I spent a good part of the winter unable to work effectively because of health problems. But now I'm fit, reasonably well-rested (for an old man that still has children in school), and ready to get back to work.

At least I think I am. The biggest problem is that I seem to be, well, out of practice.

I expect to be out of practice when I don't pick up my guitar or sit down at the piano for a long stretch of time, just as I expect to be out of shape when I haven't walked or been on the treadmill for an extended period.

But I didn't expect my creative muscles to atrophy. Well, not atrophy, exactly. It isn't as if I have no creative ideas. But the flow seems to be harder to achieve than it was a few months ago, the last time I had some serious, productive writing sessions.

Sure, there are lots of distractions, habits you get into that involve something other than writing, especially when health gets you behind on life and not just your work. But I thought I would be able, when I did sit down without any other distractions, to put fingers to keyboard and start writing.

Especially because I have always given myself permission to write junk. You see, if you don't give yourself permission to do really bad writing, you'll choke. Nothing you write for the first time will seem good enough to commit to paper (or computer screen), and you'll edit as you go.

My solution to this is to just say "write what comes next, and hang quality; you'll get it right on the second (or third, or tenth) pass." And not only has this worked well for me, but I have found that, absent the restraints of trying to write my best prose the first time, I actually write a lot that I can use in the final draft. Much to my surprise.

Songwriting is somewhat different. I still allow myself to write junk, but there is no "what comes next." In songwriting, it's looking over all the notes and pouncing or whatever portion stands out, or sparks and idea, or (if I'm being really good) establishes the structure that I can hand the rest of the song on.

But I haven't been able to get into the swing of it in the last couple of weeks. Something always pulls my mind away. I've been spending too much time going after flat-Earthers, not because it sells books (I'm happy to say that the subject is as unpopular in reality as I hope it might be), but because it's easy, feels more productive than it is, and is low-hanging fruit.

That's just the sort of temptation I need to avoid if I'm going to get back to those periods, of which there have been many over the past few years, when the work seemed to come easily, not without work, but without having to remind myself where my priorities were. That time produced some of my very best songs, and a non-fiction book I'm very proud of.

Now I just need to get that magic back. I don't think it was a fluke. I think it was all about sitting myself down and practicing every day, just like I do with the guitar and the piano.

Will I succeed? Well, you'll know, one way or the other, if you just stick around.